I have always loved reaching for my copy of Pride & Prejudice for a few minutes – or hours – of total escapism. The character of Elizabeth Bennet captivates me and over the years she has proved to be an invaluable source of advice, reassurance and guidance.
I remember being immediately drawn to Elizabeth’s fiery self-assurance and sharp-wit; her passion and her desire for more than her lot in life.
I first watched the Pride and Prejudice BBC drama as a child on a Sunday evening with my mum. From that point on, my love for Regency-era drama became so intense that I would often wander around the house in one of my grandma’s old-fashioned floor-length floral nightgowns, announcing to my parents that I was to attend a small gathering at the Assembly Rooms and they were to summon the chaise and four to escort me there.
Now, as a (semi-functioning) adult in the 21st Century, I still look to Austen, and more specifically to the words she created for Elizabeth Bennet, for comfort and solace. And you know what? That girl has still got it. Under her guidance, you can master quick-fire put-downs, witty retorts, feats of unwavering loyalty and courage, and potentially, how to win the heart of a man worth £10,000 a year (though I would recommend going with current inflation on that last one).
This week marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. What better way to honour her genius than by following these four rules to help you live your life as a 21st century kick-ass Lizzy Bennet:
- Witty is the new pretty
Elizabeth is the epitome of ‘witty over pretty’. She is described as having ‘fine eyes’, but is generally considered plain in comparison to the beauty of her sister, Jane.
And yet she captivates and enthrals people. She wins them over, she makes them notice and she makes them listen. And that is because she knows and speaks her mind, and won’t let even the likes of Lady Catherine DeBourgh belittle or devalue her.
Elizabeth remarked to Darcy when they finally confessed their feelings for each other; ‘you were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them.’
Lizzy shows us that you don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not to fit in all of the time. Sometimes, not fitting in is the best way to stand out and make a lasting impression. Just remember the state of Miss Bennet’s petticoat – six inches deep in mud – major scandal!
- Be the queen of the clap-back
Elizabeth Bennet was masterful when it came to the clap-back. Think on your feet, and don’t feel like you can’t respond quickly and powerfully to any criticism you feel is unwarranted.
Elizabeth put Darcy well and truly in his place when he ‘condescended’ to ask for her hand in marriage. Lizzy was also quick to stand up for herself in almost every interaction with Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley.
My personal favourite ‘Lizzy-zinger’ came after Lydia announced she would find husbands for all her sisters, to which Lizzy responded, ‘“I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.” Sick burn, bitch!
- Bonnets before Britches
This is the 17th Century equivalent of ‘chicks before dicks’. Throughout the novel, Miss Bennet demonstrates a steadfast commitment to her sisters and her friends.
Darcy’s move to conceal Jane’s visit from Bingley intensifies her hatred of him. And even though her friend Charlotte Lucas married ‘one of the stupidest men in England’, Lizzie gives them her blessing when she realises that it is what her friend wants and she remains friends with Charlotte thereafter.
Such ‘independent thought’ would have been seen as hugely controversial back in the day, but, much like Jane herself, Elizabeth challenged conventions she perceived as unjust.
Remember, when a fuckboy like Wickham tries to come between you and your sisters – two words: ‘boy, bye’.
- Admit when you are wrong
Ok, so it took Elizabeth like 30 chapters to realise her faults when she finally admitted, ‘Until this moment I never knew myself’, but fairness to her, she gets there in the end.
Elizabeth isn’t perfect; she’s quick to judge and she’s incredibly stubborn. But it’s these flaws that make Elizabeth Bennett one of the most powerfully-resonating characters in literary history.
Over 200 years after she was brought to life on-page, Elizabeth Bennet continues to be a relevant, funny, relatable and much-loved literary heroine. In honour of Jane Austen on this special anniversary, let’s all try to be a little more Lizzy and a little less Love Island-y.